Women are key to success in Vietnam -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Women are key to success in Vietnam

By Elizabeth Lu’u


Women at the community center picking up new materials after their roofs were destroyed by Typhoon Ketsana.


Home partner who started a sewing business at home after partnering with Habitat.


A popular saying in Vietnam—“Dan ong xay nha dan ba xay to am”—translates as, “Men make a house; women make a home.” Though this phrase might have been somewhat true in the past, times have changed. A large percentage of women in Habitat for Humanity Vietnam project areas are engaged in many—and often all—aspects of making a house and a home.

Earlier this year, an external evaluation of a Habitat project in Tien Giang province found that 63 percent of women in the households we partnered with took part in physical building; 70 percent of women had a major role in deciding whether to repair or build their house; and 51 percent of the loans—approximately 1,100—were given to women.

In this particular project, though only 51 percent of women are loan holders, at least 67 percent are responsible for making the loan payments, because it is common in Vietnamese culture for women to manage the finances of the household. In Tien Giang, several women also reported that after they partnered with Habitat, they began saving for the first time.

Due to the political structure in Vietnam, nongovernmental organizations must work through government partners to carry out projects in any location. In some of our project areas, our government partner is the Women’s Union, whose stated mandate is to “protect women’s legitimate rights and strive for gender equality.”

In our Dong Nai project, 85 percent of the loans are held by women, while in Vinh Phuc and in our Kien Giang housing and water and sanitation improvement project, all of the loans are held by women. These high numbers are due to our partnership with the Women’s Union. In addition, these projects also report that the vast majority of those who manage the loans and attend financial and construction workshops are the women of the households.

Habitat for Humanity Vietnam aims to “promote gender equality and empower women”—Millennium Development Goal No. 3 (MDG 3)—by providing women with some of the tools needed to lift themselves out of poverty (e.g., training or education in financial literacy, low-cost construction techniques, safe water and sanitation practices and applying for their land use rights).

Our work on MDG 3 is also a smart investment, as studies on microfinance have shown that women are better at managing their loans than men. HFH Vietnam’s project portfolios show high and timely repayment rates, reinforcing the research findings that women are good financial managers.(1),(2)

Habitat’s provision of access to capital through microloans for full housing or repairs goes hand-in-hand with enabling women to increase their income, as approximately 3 million women use their homes for business(3) purposes in Vietnam.

We have heard from several female home partners who have increased their income after partnering with us. For example, one home partner reported increased business in her living room café after Habitat helped her replace her dirt floor with a tile one. Before the repair, her floor would turn to mud during the rainy season. Another home partner who replaced her dirt floor said she was able to start a sewing business once she could keep the fabric clean on a tile floor.

Despite these small steps toward progress, women in Vietnam, like women throughout the developed and developing world, are still constrained by traditional gender values. As wives and mothers, they are often solely responsible for both their small businesses and unpaid domestic work. And although Vietnamese women work more hours than men, they receive approximately 87 percent of men’s wages.(4)

HFH Vietnam is proud of our strong record of working with women. We are eagerly looking for new ways to better serve the women in our projects by giving them a voice in forums and listening to their suggestions and feedback about our projects.

Elizabeth Lu’u is the planning, monitoring and evaluation manager at Habitat for Humanity Vietnam. She has worked with Habitat Vietnam for a year and half. Prior to joining Habitat, she worked with Doctors Without Borders and World Vision.

1)Women and Repayment in Microfinance” - http://www.microfinancegateway.org/gm/document-1.9.40253/Women%20and%20Repayment%20in%20Microfinance.pdf

2)Economist Article, Wominnovation” referring to International Centre for Research on Women study: http://www.economist.com/business-finance/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15656289

3)International Labour Organization 2007, Women's Entrepreneurship Development in Vietnam - http://www.oit.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---asia/---ro-bangkok/documents/publication/wcms_100456.pdf

4)Opening remarks at the media Q&A by the UN Resident Coordinator at the launch of regional Human Development Report on gender- http://www.undp.org.vn/detail/newsroom/news-details/?contentId=3366&languageId=1